Life lessons learnt from a season racing Cyclo-Cross

Not quite the season end 'Cross racer Alison was expecting, never-the-less, it's taught her some important life lessons

Well. After the jolly enthusiasm of my previous posts, the final races of this season didn’t exactly go according to plan. Basically, er… I didn’t do any. Oh dear.

Looking every inch the pro, Alison in her first Cyclocross season in 2012.

There are several reasons for this; you might be interested in them, regardless, as I imagine they’ll strike a chord for anyone balancing life, family, riding and the horrors of winter weather.

1. Family

The family being involved makes ‘cross racing a whole lot more fun. The kids have their own races. I get supported: someone to fettle my gears, argue with me about tyre pressure, shout “GO ON MUMMY!” when I feel like giving up, and silently pass me sandwiches when I start looking murderous. I don’t have to abandon everyone on a weekend, and on a good day it’s something we all really enjoy.

Sometimes it’s easier just to go for a nice walk with the family instead.

But on bad days, the family can make everything more taxing. The boys get bored and play up. The 8-year-old has one of his almost-legendary meltdowns (I HATE CYCLOCROSS. THEY MADE IT ALL MUDDY ON PURPOSE.). The 5-year-old decides to ride off over the horizon while no-one is looking. The boyfriend gets stressed. I feel horribly guilty for putting us all through it.

2. Weather

‘Cross is a winter sport, and while early-season races in September and October can be balmy and dry, late-season racing involves rain, wind, hail, sleet, snow, ice, slush and general miserableness. It requires thermal clothing and ‘Hardening Up’ on the part of participants.

This year, I missed some mid-season races through illness; by the time December arrived it was dark, cold, wet, windy and grim. I already feel guilty about dragging the family out to stand around in playing fields, but it’s much worse when they risk hypothermia from cow-belling in the freezing rain.

So if the weather looks like it’s going to be really awful, this increases the chances of us all staying in bed.

3. Mud

Yes, yes, I know, mud is all part of the game. But as ‘cross enthusiasts know, there are at least seventeen types. Sticky mud slows you down and clogs up your gears, but really wet sloppy mud can turn ‘cross racing into bog-snorkelling-with-a-bike-on-your-back.

Getting stuck in muddy ruts at Broughton Hall (and the multi-veteran pileup that resulted, broken saddle and all) made me realise I need a lot more practice at riding in the serious stuff, and put me off the more notorious late-season mudbaths (e.g. Todmorden).

4. Psychology

With a raft of DNSs and DNFs* under my belt, my season never really got started. Then I got ill, and it dragged on for weeks. Then there was a big gap in the race schedule. When racing started again, I’d just lost my mojo. The Fear had set in – of mechanicals, falling off, sliding around, doing badly, having a horrible time. Even the promise of riding in fancy dress at Heptonstall couldn’t drag me from the doldrums.

Having moped around for a bit threatening to sell my bike and take up crochet instead, I’ve now rallied enough to try and draw the inevitable ‘Lessons To Be Learned’ from all this.

Here are my plans for 2014:

a. Go with it. Focus on early-season races as these tend to be drier, warmer and more family-friendly. Start with a bang (rather than missing the first couple of races, as I did this year), so I feel less frustrated if illness, loss of mojo, and general apathy set in later on.

b. We’re lucky enough to have a summer ‘cross season here in Yorkshire. Ride some of this to build experience, conquer a few fears, and make starting next September feel like less of a psychological hurdle.

c. Do some proper practice of the things that scare me, especially riding in deep mud. Gulp.

d. Go out and just ride my ‘cross bike around. This is excellent fun in almost any weather, and Those That Know tell me it’s at least as useful as doing ‘proper’ ‘cross practice. It can’t hurt, can it?

Allowing myself to be happy just getting out on my ‘Cross bike for training

Anyhow. Thanks for sticking with me through the season. I’m sorry I’ve been a bit of a disappointment.

There’s always next year, though, eh? Onwards and upwards…

* DNS = Did Not Start; DNF = Did Not Finish


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